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Tommy Battles Health Issues, Lifelong Drinking Problem

Aug 6, 2019

Tommy grew up on an Indian reservation in San Diego County, where he said many began drinking at a young age. “I started when I was 9,” he said. “By 11, I was going to the liquor store to get big bottles of hard liquor.”

It didn’t help that Tommy didn’t have much family. “My parents were both addicted to drugs,” he said. “My mom split and my dad was locked up most of the time until he was killed (in sheriff’s custody) when I was 12. From there I spent most of my time in juvenile hall of boys’ homes.”

Tommy met his wife on the reservation when she was 13 and he was 14. When he got out of the system at 18, he started a 30-year career in construction. He and his wife married and had three daughters. “I liked my work,” Tommy said. “I was a foreman working all over Southern California. I was a functioning alcoholic, so I could drink and have a bunch of guys working for me and make the company happy, and that’s what I did every day.”

The hours were long. Tommy often worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week. “I lived on the reservation my whole life. We owned a home there. I thought I was providing in the right way by providing monetarily, but I wasn’t there to spend any time with my family. We’d take vacations and stuff—go to Big Bear or Disneyland—but when I was working, I was never home.”

Tommy’s absence took a toll on his marriage. “Since I was never there, she started her own life I guess,” he said. “I wasn’t there, so I wasn’t paying attention.”

Five years ago, Tommy left the reservation. “All my kids were grown up. I just left. There was cheating and stuff. I didn’t want that. She kept asking for forgiveness, asking me to stay, but I couldn’t.”

Tommy stayed on his own for a few years, and then entered the San Diego Rescue Mission. He graduated the program after 16 months. He went back on his own, but after a construction job was shut down, he became homeless. “I was having problems with my drinking,” Tommy said. “I was on the streets. My brother passed away, and my sister-in-law invited me up (to Santa Maria) to stay for a bit. My drinking got more out of hand, so I came here to get help.”

Tommy, now 53, has been at the mission for four months. “This is a really good program,” he said “It’s helped a lot. I’d be on the streets if I wasn’t here, I know that. Everyone who works here and runs the program, they really stick their necks out to help you, and I appreciate that a lot.”

The staff has helped Tommy a lot, he said. “We have one-on-one meetings where they are giving you goals. They are talking with you about it—what your needs are, how to meet your goals. We aren’t sitting around and doing nothing, and then walking out the door with no expectations of a future or anything. It’s not, ‘OK, you have a temporary place to stay? Great, we’ll move on to the next guy.’ They are trying to help everyone plan their future.”

For now, Tommy is working through some health issues, including a spinal condition resulting from years of hard work, as well as probable cirrhosis of the liver. He is staying focused on his recovery and his relationship with God. “My parents didn’t go to church, but they sent us, so I walked to church since I was 5,” he said. “I know I’m a sinner and
I haven’t perfectly followed anything, but I know Jesus died for my sins. I know my sins are forgiven. … I just want to start over.”

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